I chat with Ash Kapriélov, who runs a Tomb Raider fansite called ‘tomb-of-ash.com‘ and has also organised a fantastic Core Event Panel at Manchester’s PLAY Expo.
Brian – Hi Ash. Thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions. When did you first encounter Tomb Raider and Lara Croft? Did you become a fan straight away?
A – Hi Brian! It’s a pleasure to be interviewed by The Arcade. I’ve enjoyed reading some of your awesome stuff before! I first saw Tomb Raider and Tomb Raider II gameplay back in 1997, in one of those PlayStation centres where people would go and pay per hour to play games. At the time, I was obsessed with Crash Bandicoot, Resident Evil and Twisted Metal and I just did not understand why everyone was playing this game. I got my first PC in 2000 and this is when I first played Tomb Raider Chronicles and became obsessed with the franchise. I played all the previous releases before I got to Angel of Darkness in 2003. Those years were the most difficult of my life and Tomb Raider provided the best form of escapism.
In 2005 ish I learned how to make renders in 3DS Max and I started making various images of Lara and Kurtis together(from The Angel of Darkness). It’s actually so weird but I learned English, 3DS Max, Photoshop and many other software packages and even moved to the UK because of Lara Croft!
B – You run your own website called Tomb Of Ash and is a pretty extensive website dedicated to Tomb Raider. What made you set up this site originally?
A – ‘Tomb of Ash’ started as a simple, personal Tumblr blog. One day I managed to interview Andy Sandham and realised that I have no space to publish the interview, except for LaraCroft.ru, which is a Russian website, ran by my friends. And so I decided to create a proper Tomb Raider news website.
B – There are 3 main series for Tomb Raider currently, Core era, 1st Crystal Dynamics era and the 2013 reboot era. Have you an overall favourite TR game?
A – I would say Tomb Raider Chronicles is my most favourite game. It is the one I started with and it has elements from every Core game ever made, and yes, I prefer Core games. Core were definitely were instantly onto a hit with TR, but I don’t think anyone saw Lara becoming such a mega star world wide.
B – What are the main characteristics that make Lara and Tomb Raider so appealing and make her unique?
A – The original Lara, despite being called an “ice queen” by some, was actually one of the most relatable characters. She was a woman with extraordinary acrobatic abilities but she was still more relatable than, say, Superman. The games themselves had incredible graphics and game mechanics.
B – The Core series is still beloved to this day and the original Tomb Raider was revolutionary at the time of release. As the years went on Core were getting flack that each game had less and less innovation. Some new innovations and mechanics eventually made it into TR:The Angel of Darkness. How did you view this game at the time?
A – Yeah, Core actually planned to make 2-3 games for PlayStation and then wait for the next-gen console to continue the franchise. The management, however, had a different plan. Hence why we had 1 game per year from 1996-2000. When The Angel of Darkness came out, my PC could not handle the game on a playable FPS. I literally had a 2-3 FPS slideshow in 320*240 resolution (I think?). I did finish half of the game though before buying a new video card. I love that game. The story, the details. It’s simply incredible. Obviously, it’s very sad that nearly half of it never was properly finished.
B – You have gotten the pleasure of speaking with many former members of the Core team over the years and have uncovered some great insight into the cut ideas for TAOD and the now cancelled sequels. Would you have liked another game from Core?
A – Actually yes. I was in talks with some of them to create a few levels in Tomb Raider Level Editor. Someone actually emailed me about the petition for Core to make a level or two so I decided to try to make it a reality. Hope that I will be able to persuade them with that at some point.
B – TR was one of the biggest brands in the world at the time, but it was in doubt the TR could make a comeback and stay relevant in the modern era of gaming and beyond. Development duties switched to America and to Crystal. How did you react to this news? Did you like the end product that was TR: Legend?
A – The Legend was one of the worst games I ever played. It was too short, too repetitive and too easy. I hated it. I hated the new biography as well. I don’t know why we need to justify Lara’s motivation with some “mummy/daddy” issues. It felt very weird playing that game.
B – Crystal made two additional games within the Legend era with Anniversary and Underworld. How did you find these games?
A – Underworld was good. I actually think it was the best Tomb Raider game Crystal made. There was a “parents” story but it was not in your face. The vast locations, challenging enemies, incredible environments, captivating soundtrack, Lara’s character… everything was just great.
– I have no exact opinion on Anniversary really; I did not enjoy huge changes such as Natla, Larson and Pierre’s look and Lara’s motivation for finding a scion. I would prefer Core’s anniversary really. If you read those documents that I recently published, the cancelled Anniversary Edition game would actually be one of the best games ever made.
B – A full reboot of Lara and Tomb Raider happened in 2013. How did this Lara compare to previous iterations?
– It’s early to judge. Obviously, Tomb Raider 2013 was supposed to be a backstory alike the one we’ve read in Tomb Raider 1 manual, where it was explained how Lara survived a plane crash etc. Rise of the Tomb Raider was also nice at building her character. Again, the parents thing was involved in the story and Lara is simply way too serious now. Hopefully in the next game they will start slowly polishing her character out.
B – TR has a massive fan base with a wide range of views and opinions of each series. Is it fun meeting these fans and/or collaborating with them?
– It depends. A couple of weeks ago I had a “pleasure” of witnessing how one of the reboot fans told to one of the Core developers “yeah I like Lara, but only the reboot one” with such a snobby face… So rude but it’s not the only occasion unfortunately. I try to avoid going on forums, where classic fans are called all kinds of words. I have friends which like all iterations of Lara and we never have any problems with that but with the fans in general, no. I can’t say I had a positive interaction with those. I actually was quite often antagonised by reboot fans for writing fair and accurate reviews, apparently I am supposed to pretend that everything is awesome. Also, as the 20th anniversary is approaching, a number of reboot fans simply demand personal contact information for Core, models and VO from me as it is a trendy topic now. It’s all a bit silly and sad.
– I met most of my best friends because of Tomb Raider but right now, the community is awfully divided and bitter. One of the key factors of that is the exclusivity deal of course.
– I won’t even start on plagiarism that I had experienced which was not addressed properly and made me consider quitting being an official fansite and just become an independent blog. That being said, I did collaborate with many fans on a variety of projects, like our Baba Yaga video and the Tomb Raider 20th Anniversary Project, which is done to get people together. I also helped Simon, who made the documentary on Tomb Raider 1, with getting Shelley Blond on board. I love helping people, when they are nice to me. I’m always open for collaborations, my recent one was a speed run of Tomb Raider: Underworld with the Brotherhood of Gaming and I loved every minute of it.
B – One of my favourite aspects in TR games has been the sound and music of the games. Nathan McCree (original composer of TR 1,2 & 3) is currently recreating and adding to his original scores as part of the Tomb Raider Suite. It will be performed by a full orchestra at a live concert in London in December as part of the 20th Anniversary celebrations. Are you excited for this look back at some of the most iconic gaming music?
A – Absolutely. Think I will need to bring four boxes of tissues, as I am sure I will be an emotional mess during the gig haha.
B – With the promise of a new Hollywood film starring actress Alicia Vikander and the likely possibility of future games released, what do you want to see for the future of Lara and TR as a whole?
A – I hope that in the next game Lara will become more adventurous for the sake of own interest in ancient mysteries. I also hope her wit and humour will come back because her character is rather dull and too “ordinary” now. The realism in the new games is odd, it makes Lara more emotional but it takes away her Core. I had a feeling at the end of the Rise(of the Tomb Raider) that she is slowly coming around so there’s a hope. As someone said “I don’t want her to be like me, I want myself to be more like her”.
B – Have you any upcoming events where people can meet and chat about TR?
– Yes. This weekend there’s going to be the largest Tomb Raider 20th anniversary celebrations at PLAY Expo, which I co-organised. There’s also a special Tomb Raider event at Quad in Derby at the end of October.
B – When did you start planning this event?
A – I messaged PLAY Expo in December with a suggestion for a panel and other activities. I gave them the list of people that we could possibly have and things we could possibly do and it just took off from then.
B – Was it hard to get so many members of Core back together after all these years?
A – Absolutely. They are all over the country and world. Some are extremely hard to reach and I had to do a proper detective work in order to get them on the panel.
B – You have many things planned with talks and panels. Tell us about these?
A – There’s a main Core Design panel, Ian Livingstone’s talk about own career and Audio/Music talk with Nathan McCree. Additionally, Natalie Cook will be dressed in her original Lara Croft outfit from ECTS 1996 and there will be a chance to have your picture taken with her. Natalie will also be part of the jury at the cosplay masquerade. Many of ex Core Design team are coming as visitors to the event as well.
B – You even have original Lara model Natalie Cook in costume. This must be exciting to get a lot of people from TR history?
A – Absolutely! This is absolutely unmissable event. My friend Tatiana is coming all the way from America for this, she will be helping me to capture the event so people who can’t come could still enjoy it. I also know that my Ukrainian friend applied for UK visa just to come for PLAY Expo. It really is incredible to see all the fans coming from all over the world to meet their heroes.
B – How was your collaboration with Play Expo? Were they excited to have a great TR event?
A – PLAY are probably the most supportive and helpful people I ever worked with. They kept me informed on everything. They spent tremendous amount of time, effort and resources to make it happen. PLAY and my mission this year was to make the best event for Tomb Raider fans. I actually feel quite sad that it’s all going to end soon as I absolutely enjoyed working on this.
B – Will content from the PLAY Expo be available to the general public after it happens?
A – Yes, I plan to stream the panel and release a special recap video, alike the one I did for E3. As mentioned before, my friend Tatiana (who I met because of Tomb Raider) will be dressed as Lara and carry two DSLR’s (cameras) in her holsters. In fact, PLAY were supportive here as well. They asked me if I need any assistance, seriously, best team ever.
B – You have been part of a massive Tomb Raider Project. Tell us about all the work that has gone into this?
A – I came up with the project over a year ago and we spent months planning it. I had great help from my co-admin Terenete and Survivor Reborn. We decided to throw in all the merch we could spare to reward our participants. At this stage, we are collecting more of the video entries. We have enough entries to create a proper clip but due to PLAY Expo and own personal matters we had to extend the deadline until November, which is great since we received a few entries last week alone! The project’s main theme is “connection”. We are connecting fans across the world in celebrations of the 20th anniversary. I was inspired by the whole console wars and community divide, I wanted to bring ALL of the fans together.
B – Is the Tomb Raider Project part of/is the Play Expo?
A – Nope. It’s a separate thing that I came up with. Although both have similar purpose – to connect the fans and developers together.
B – Where can people find out more about you and your work?
A – Well I have two main websites, Tomb-of-Ash.com, which is my videogames related website/blog and a professional portfolio.
B – Thanks again for your time and keep up the great work of delving deep into TR’s past, present and future!
A – You’re very welcome!
We will check back in with Ash after the PLAY Expo Core event as it is a great achievement to get members of Core back together for the fans. Ash also has some great interviews and blog pieces about the history of Tomb Raider games. Head on over to his website or follow him on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.